100 Sexy Roles Women can Take in Tech: No. 7, CTO Jane Sales from Ambient & Flook

Jane SalesThe NextWomen is running a series of stories of  women in tech, explaining what inspired them to work in the industry. The baton was passed to Jane Sales, author, CTO and founder of Ambient Industries, backed by Eden Ventures and Amadeus Seed Fund. She has built an application, flook, about to be released to the App Store.

Jane's programming career is definitely interesting and The NextWomen likes her honesty.

My main claim to fame is that Symbian OS first booted in my bedroom in Cookham. Luckily its distribution is somewhat more widespread today.

Who inspired you to get into TECH?

If there was any one person, it was probably my father. He was (and is) the kind of person who recited Keats while changing the engine in a 1960s mini, and was the kind of photographer who thought you were some kind of idiot if you didn't understand your apertures and your f-stops - he showed me that you could be technical *and* arty.

Douglas Adams and Stephen Fry are more recent inspirations in being a polymath! (And I wish there were more female role models here. I think it would be an enormous inspiration to young girls if one of their female heroes was also a nerd.)

How were you educated in TECH?

I read maths at Jesus College, Oxford. I chose the subject because I'm fundamentally lazy. At school, maths came with zero revision necessary, and in my ignorance I assumed it would be the same at university, thus leaving me plenty of time for pimms and punts. Sadly this wasn't the case, and I quickly got left behind.

It was then that I discovered the fundamental difference between arts and sciences - once you're behind a subject like maths, you stay behind, because everything builds on everything else.

I failed my degree at the first attempt and scraped a pass at the second. I'm being open about it as inspiration - I think there's been just one job ever that I failed to get because of that degree.

How is your experience in the TECH world?

I'm not going to say there's not a gender gap. There is. I think it becomes more apparent the more senior you are, too. The problem is fundamental too, so I think it's hard to overcome by legislation. Men get on better with other men. The relationship is simple, they understand each other, and as a woman you'll always be "other".

I think that most successful women I've known manage to combine an extrovert flirtiness with a huge toughness and ability to get things done. Sadly, that's not my way - I can't flirt, I treat people the same regardless of gender, and I think it's held me back.

Any advice to aspiring (non) techies?

Learn by doing. If you want to write code, start writing code.

I see plenty of missed opportunities for iPhone apps aimed at women, for example, and all you need to get started is an iPhone, a Mac and some time. You'll look back at the code you wrote a year ago with horror, but doing is by far the best way to learn properly.

Which Roles do/did you have in Tech?

I started off writing COBOL for ICL mainframes. And when I say writing, I mean writing. We wrote our applications in pencil on coding sheets and handed them to a typist to be changed into punch cards, which were in turn handed to an operator, who fed them into a machine the size of a combine harvester.

If you'd have told me that more than twenty years later I'd be programming a more powerful device that had more hard disk, more RAM, a colour screen, a camera, took video, supported GPS, had a touch-screen, an accelerometer and a compass - and that I could hold that device in one hand, I would have asked what drugs you were on.

I've really spent most of my career programming. I moved to operating systems soon after I'd done my time with COBOL - first porting CCP/M to an in-house computer, and most recently running the team that wrote EPOC (now Symbian OS).

My main claim to fame is that Symbian OS first booted in my bedroom in Cookham. Luckily its distribution is somewhat more widespread today.

After that followed a career interlude that only we women seem to have to put up with - I followed my husband's career to France, Ukraine and finally San Francisco. During that time I wrote a book (Symbian OS Internals, published by Wiley) which I like to describe as a unique door-stop / soporific product combination.

But the best is last.

Sitting in a pub in Southwark, waiting to meet a friend, I thought how well the iPhone was suited to an application that just let you browse through pages of nearby location-based content. I could sit in that pub, I thought, and find out what was best on the menu, who had been there the night before, and what band was playing around the corner. My friend arrived, and he'd been thinking along similar lines - Ambient Industries was born.

With a third colleague (actually my husband), we raised funding from Amadeus
Seed Fund and Eden Ventures late in 2008. Nine months after we started development, our application, flook, is about to be released to the App Store!

Sign Up to our Newsletter

So you enjoy The NextWomen. Why not sign up to our monthly newsletter?
You get a Letter from the CEO :-), the chance to catch up with the best of our recent articles - and some extra things we throw in once in a while.

We try hard for smart reading.